By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – If Max Scherzer had not locked up every vote for the American League Cy Young already, he probably converted any remaining doubters with his gutsy performance as a reliever Tuesday.
Scherzer entered the game in the eighth inning, his Detroit Tigers clinging to a 5-4 lead as they tried to avoid elimination from the American League Division Series in Game 4 of their series against the Oakland A’s.
Scherzer walked the first batter, Brandon Moss, and Yoenis Cespedes doubled. With batters on second and third, Scherzer intentionally walked the next batter, Seth Smith, leaving the bases loaded with no outs.
“Max is a strikeout guy, and that’s what you’re looking for,” manager Jim Leyland said. “If you can get the first two guys on strikes, that’s huge, which is what he did.
“I hated to load him up,” Leyland said, “but Smith has been so hot, and Max is a strikeout guy, so you take your shot.”
The risk paid off.
After loading the bases, Scherzer struck out the next two batters. The third batter, pinch hitter Alberto Callaspo, started off in an 0-2 hole but worked into a full count. One ball he fouled off started fair down the third base line before veering off, right after Scherzer and catcher Alex Avila had a talk at the mound.
“I asked him what pitch we want to throw, and I said, ‘He’s probably going to be really aggressive right now. Let’s go with our best fastball,'” Scherzer recounted. “Sure enough, he put a swing on it, and I thought I gave up the hit. I thought the ball was down and tailed just enough foul. I was so happy that happened.”
What happened next brought even more excitement – Callapso, with a full count, hit a fly ball to center field.
“I had to challenge him with my best pitch, and I know he’s a great fastball hitter, but I had to come with my best, and he put a good swing on it and hit it hard,” Scherzer said. “I thought it was down, but Austin [Jackson] made a great play to be able to run that play down, and that was an unbelievable play.”
The crisis had been averted, and Scherzer got fired up, yelling and pumping his fists and high-fiving his teammates so vociferously in the dugout that right fielder Torii Hunter joked he was trying to put them on the disabled list.
“It was surreal to be able to get an out in that situation and keep the one-run lead with bases loaded, no outs in the eighth inning,” Scherzer said. “That’s the stuff you dream of. Maybe it’s not the ninth inning, but that’s the stuff you dream about pitching, bases loaded, eighth inning, no outs, and I was able to do it.”
Leyland had mentioned before the game the possibility of using Scherzer in relief, possibly in the seventh and eighth innings, but said he would only do it in exactly the right scenario – Scherzer feeling great, Tigers leading late, starter Doug Fister almost worn out.
“I don’t want to sit here and tell you we planned on doing it, but it was an option,” Leyland said. “It worked out good for us. We took our best shot and we had to because we were behind the eight-ball a little bit. We took that shot and, hey, both teams are going to have a good pitcher going two days from now.”